How to sleep like a happy mama

How to sleep like a happy mama
Let’s talk about sleep, baby, let’s talk about you and me, let’s talk about all the waking and the nursing that will be…

I can’t decide whether to write this post or not. Because if you’re looking for advice, I don’t have any. None. Seriously! I’m a parenting blogger, and I have ZERO advice on how you could get your children to sleep earlier/better/longer/bring you breakfast in bed. I mean, I imagine you’re already doing all the obvious things like breastfeeding, rocking, singing, not clashing metal pans near their head.

I guess I’m writing this post to say that there IS no secret magic potion that will make your children sleep the way you want them to. By now, I believe sleep is how nature warns parents that even as a newborn, their child is an individual with her own needs, wants, and wishes. I’ve seen children nod off in their mother’s arms without a squawk…my son still needs to be nursed down if we want him to sleep in a bed…a friend’s daughter demands to be rocked in the middle of the night. There’s no logic, rhyme, or reason to how and why our children sleep, and there certainly is no manual (despite parenting experts and supernannies wanting us to believe otherwise!)

Imagine if, when our babies were born, pediatricians told us that every baby came with its own sleep timer and that their sleep was completely out of our control. Wouldn’t we all feel a lot more relaxed about those first few weeks, months, and years with our children?

I still frequently wish there were a magic potion to make my son sleep – and not just for my benefit. Few things are more frustrating than trying to convince an exhausted toddler to shut his eyes and lie still. But deep down, I know that there’s nothing I can really do: perhaps my son is over-excited from seeing the elephants at the zoo, maybe he needs to process something he overheard me say to his father that day…or maybe jumping up and down on the bed is just too darn fun!

The one thing I can do is to focus on my sleep. The following may come across as advice, but it really is just a collection of things I do that work for me. They’ve allowed me to remain relatively chirpy and sane on less than 4 hours of continuous sleep over the past 20 months. They might not work for you, so if you have any great tips for helping mamas get some better sleep, please share in the comments!

1. Never looking at the clock

I’ve read much research about sleep, and one thing that stuck out is that our subjective tiredness is closely linked to our subjective sleep quality. Meaning that the worse we think we slept, the more tired we feel the next day. Flipping this around, if you can make your mind BELIEVE you had a reasonable night’s sleep, you’ll feel much better during the day.

Looking at the clock is just an invitation to feeling miserable. Is there really any scenario where looking at the clock every time your baby wakes, you will make you feel better? Let’s see:

10:00 pm am Oh NO! I put her down at 8, and she’s up already! This night is going to be awful!

12:00 am How can she be awake again?!

2:00 am Heaven’s, this is a horrible time to be awake….

4:00 am Gosh. I hope she goes down again. I need a few more hours before I can face the day

The only day you’ll actually feel good after looking at the clock is Sunday when daylight savings ends, and that feeling will only last until you realize it actually is 5 a.m.

2.Sleeping as close to my baby as possible

No, I’m not telling you to cosleep with your baby. Although I love our family futon and wish cosleeping was more of a mainstream option, I completely GET that it might not work for you.

Having said that, I do truly believe that in terms of improving parental sleep, the closer is better. I have no IDEA how mums who get up and walk to another room several times a night are even functioning, to put it another way.

The LESS you wake yourself up while tending to your baby, the easier it will be to fall back to sleep and forget about the night-time shenanigans once they are over. I have no idea how often my son wakes during the night because usually all he does is cry, roll into me, nurse, and fall back asleep. My involvement is minimal, repetitive, and forgettable. I DO intensely remember every time he needs me to get up and walk around the house physically.

3. Being super serious about My sleep (not my baby’s)

I am proud to be a frequent napper (can I get that printed on a T-shirt?). Although I try to be relaxed about my son’s sleeping habits, I’m super serious about my own sleep. I go to bed ridiculously early. I hardly ever drink wine. I rarely go out for evening meals. If I’m tired and the baby gives me a chance to nap, I do, no matter how many dirty dishes there are in the sink or, more realistically, if the new Good Wife episode is on TV. Sounds boring? Maybe, but I’d rather be boring and well-rested than constantly sleep-deprived.

4. changing my understanding of “A good night’s sleep.”

We’ve all had the “8 hours a night, or you will be miserable” mantra stuffed down our throats. I know many people are against attachment parenting and night-time breastfeeding because they feel the frequent night waking is too much to ask from the mother. How will she ever cope or being a functional human being or wife if she doesn’t get her standard eight hours of kip?!?!

Well, it turns out the 8 hours thing was kind of invented to stop workers from taking a nap after lunch and keep them in the factory for longer. Even adults don’t really sleep in one huge 8-hour chunk. In many hunter-gatherer societies, people apparently get up in the middle of the night to chat around the fire, and Chaucer wrote about “first and second sleep” in his Canterbury Tales.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying matching your sleep schedule to a baby’s isn’t tiring. I recently looked at pictures of myself from my son’s first year, and I look utterly exhausted in everyone. However, I think that all the reading I did on alternative sleep schedules allowed my subconscious to get used to the idea that a broken night’s sleep wasn’t a death sentence.

(So, in the end, I did write the post. What do you think? Any other ideas for getting mamas to sleep better?)

Written by Julie
I’m Julie, 30-year old mum to a baby boy, translator, writer and wife. After nearly 5 years in Brazil, our little family has just moved back to Europe.